When and where: October 20, 2018, Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA, 10:30 PM ET
The Los Angeles Lakers kick off the LeBron James era by welcoming the Houston Rockets to the Staples Center on Saturday. Courtside seats in the season-opening game in Los Angeles will be like sitting ringside at a Floyd Mayweather fight. Everyone who’s anyone will be front and center to witness The King’s attempt at reviving the Lake Show.
They’ll have a potential championship contender to deal with in the Houston Rockets, who will be looking for a bounce back win after losing to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Lakers are also coming off a road loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Is the fear of regression legit for the Rockets?
The Rockets tried to compete in an offensive shootout on their home floor against the Pelicans on Wednesday night, and they were blown off the court. It was a surprisingly disappointing home opener for a Rocket team that came within a game of beating the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs last season and representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
But things have changed.
CP3 talked to the media after last night's loss.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) October 18, 2018
Trevor Ariza, the celebrated two-way veteran player, joined the Phoenix Suns in the offseason for more money, which was shocking considering how vital he was to the Rockets’ success last season.
No, he wasn’t scoring 30-plus points per game, but his ability to defend the opposing team’s best player was certainly worth a raise. He was the real-life version of Dean Portman for the Rockets. Along with Ariza, the Rockets also lost Luc Mbah a Moute, another key defensive contributor to their deep playoff run.
They could have used both Ariza and Mbah a Moute against the Pelicans when they were giving up 131 points, which is the most points they’ve allowed in any regular season game in the last year. It would be much easier if we could simply chalk their bad defensive performance up to first-game rust. However, this newly-constructed Rockets team might soon learn cobwebs aren’t their only problem.
Eric Gordon, not Harden, led the Rockets with 21 points against the Pelicans. Harden finished with 18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, while Paul contributed 19 points, six assists and five rebounds. Capela struggled in the first game of his $90 million extension with only eight points.
Are the young Lakers ready for the Lake Show?
The mere presence of James on the Lakers catapults them to playoff contenders—at least on paper.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 19, 2018
Aspirations of competing for an NBA championship will fall upon the shoulders of the young nucleus of players, including Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.
As demonstrated last season in the NBA Finals, James can only do so much on the floor, particularly when faced with the impossible odds of dethroning a Warrior team that look like The Avengers on the court. Obviously, players like Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee will be especially helpful considering their championship experience.
However, the transition from a reconstruction project to expectations of competing for championships every year may not be an easy adjustment for the young Lakers. Losing isn’t the end of the world since they’re still in the honeymoon phase with James, but don’t expect that to continue throughout the entire season. James understands the Lakers are still building towards championship contention, but he isn’t settling for mediocrity by any stretch, even in a stacked Western Conference.
Ball finished with only seven points against the Trail Blazers, while Ingram (16), Kuzma (15) and Hart (20) all had double-figures. James led the team with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
- Lakers are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games after a loss
- Lakers are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games against a team with a winning percentage below .400.
- Lakers are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games against teams in the NBA Southwest
- Lakers are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games played on a Saturday
- Rockets are 3-8 ATS in their last 11 games against teams in the NBA Pacific
- Rockets are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games played on a Saturday
- Rockets are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games against a team with a losing record
- Rockets are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games when coming off 2 days’ rest
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
The Rockets are compromised on the defensive side of the ball, which probably means James is going to have a big game. What else is new?
The most overlooked statistic in the loss to the Pelicans was the fact that the Rockets gave up 76 points in the paint. That isn’t going to cut it when James, the human freight train, comes barreling at full speed to the basket. There’s no easier way to instill confidence in a young team than a tomahawk slam from James on their home court.
I fully expect this Lakers game to be like a rock concert. The Lakers haven’t been this relevant since the tail end of Kobe Bryant’s prime years. Not only do they have a shot at returning to the playoffs, but depending on how things shape out, they might have a legitimate shot at competing for a championship.
The Rockets also went through a stretch early last season when they lost three of five games to the Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers. Even though the core group of Harden, Paul and Clint Capela is still intact, the Rockets will spend the early part of the season searching for their identity.
Carmelo Anthony is capable of getting hot any night with the ball in his hands, but that’s remains a big if at the moment, coupled with the fact that he doesn’t make up for the defensive void left by Ariza. James and the rest of the Lakers offensive players should be able to have their way.
This is simply bad timing for the Rockets as they run into a buzz saw in a city and a team celebrating James’ arrival.
Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers (+3.5)
Full-Game Total Pick
The over is 7-2 in the last nine head-to-head meetings between these two teams. Aside from a miracle, I don’t see the Rockets defense improving significantly over the course of a few days after the game with the Pelicans, and while the Lakers now have the ability to put up a lot of points, they haven’t proven to be much better on defense, either. They’re coming off a game where they gave up 128 points to the Trail Blazers.
Prediction: Over (235.5)
Full-Game Prop Bet
I’d have some serious questions about the Lakers if they come out flat in their home opener, even if it’s only their second game of the season. The Staples Center will be a madhouse by tip-off time, and it should feed the Lakers into a first-quarter frenzy. Just wait until James slam dunks the basketball for the first time in that arena. The roof may come off the building.
Prediction: Lakers total 1st quarter points (Over 30)